A Definitive Look At Some Professional Athletes’ Attempts At Music
by 18 February 2017, 3:30 PM
A purely subjective and absolutely conclusive review of a few professional athletes’ forays into the world of music.
In a story that I initially assumed originated from a Bay Area sports fan’s fever dream, Barry Zito is now an up-and-coming professional musician.
Yes, former MLB All-Star Barry Zito recently put out his first EP of original songs that is currently charting at No. 18 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart, No. 15 on the Americana/Folk album chart, and No. 39 on the Country album chart.
This pillar of coolness (seen here in a 20001 [sic.] copy of the Oakland A’s Magazine) is now a bona fide rock star.
Okay, so “rock star” is probably a bit of an exaggeration, but he has still sold more albums and has won more Cy Youngs than I ever will. And, by all accounts, his album, No Secrets, is actually pretty good.
That being said, Zito’s album drop allows us to take a look at some other professional athletes who put out albums. So, let’s all muster up some courage, and take a trip down this rabbit hole…
Shaquille O’Neal – Shaq Diesel
Perhaps the preeminent sports star-turned-rapper album is the 1993’s Shaq Diesel. Released when he was maybe the most popular non-Jordan basketball player in the world, Shaq’s debut album is a trip back to a simpler time in music, before Biggie and Tupac started feuding, before Ice Cube starred in wholesome family films, and before the world was introduced to Kazaam.
But, the platinum-selling (!!!) Shaq Diesel is more than a simple throwback: it is a rap time capsule. Just check out the lead single’s almost stereotypically 90s music video!
Released less than a year before the game-changing Ready To Die, Shaq Diesel is an album very much caught between the diverging forces of the rap scene of the time. It features an almost DAISY age-reminiscent second single “I’m Outstanding”, but shows some of that classic early-90s Gangtsa rap hardness with the boastful “(I Know I Got) Skillz”.
However, this album also needed to appeal to suburban white kids.
In “(I Know I Got) Skillz,” while Shaq is bragging about his size, he hits you with the line: “I lean on the Statue of Liberty when I get tired/Then I’ll punch her in the stomach, I don’t give a heck.” Pure poetry. Just gangsta enough for someone decidedly un-gangsta to feel hard, and non-threatening enough for your mom to buy it for you at Best Buy.
Apparently it worked. The lead single was certified gold, and the album sold over one million copies.
All in all, Shaq Diesel is pretty fun. Maybe it’s my memberberries kicking in, or the fact that this album surely set a record for most references to obscure NBA players in one record, but I give Shaq Diesel a rating of Two and a Half Broken Backboards.
Deion Sanders – Prime Time
For a while, Deion “Prime Time” Sanders was one of the coolest athletes in the country. He high stepped into the endzone, pimped all of his home runs, and was friends with MC Hammer (a positive at the time). However, with Prime Time, Deion Sanders makes Peyton Manning look cool.
Released on Hammer’s Bust It Records, this disaster of an album sounds more like a Weird Al parody album than a serious one.
Did it matter that Sanders had no musical ability? Nah. Did it matter that he sounded like he had a cold and just took a bunch of NyQuil before entering the studio? Apparently not. Did it matter that he mentioned “prime time” in every song? I guess not.
Prime Time is one of the more disappointing and uncomfortable music attempts I have ever experienced. Seriously, I dare you to enjoy the music video for the lead single.
Terrible, Deion. Just terrible. 21/100.
Bernie Williams – The Journey Within
Bernie Williams is a classically trained guitarist, and his jazz fusion album The Journey Within is actually really good. It ended up hitting No. 3 on the Top Contemporary Jazz chart, and his follow up, Moving Forward, made it to No. 2, and spawned a No. 1 single “Go For It”.
Apparently all the Yankees do is win.
Damian Lillard (aka Dame D.O.L.L.A.) – The Letter O
After a particular impressive freestyle appearance on Sway in the Morning, we all knew that Oakland-born Damian Lillard had some musical skills. Unfortunately, much like Lillard’s Trail Blazers, The Letter O doesn’t deliver on the lofty expectations that we all had a year ago.
However, compared to the other albums on this list, that’s not a bad thing.
The Letter O is a fine debut album that features some good flows, but lacks the depth of musicality that might help take the album to the next level. But, that’s what I would say if Lillard wasn’t an NBA Player. As a professional athlete-turned-rapper, The Letter O is a very admirable effort.
Lillard is a particularly gifted lyricist and storyteller, but every song employs the same mellow tempo and silky smooth and wholesome vibes which make the end result somewhat unsatisfying. Like a Chris Paul jumper from the elbow, The Letter O is consistent and solid, but predictable. If the songs on this album were as varied and exciting as Lillard’s offensive game, we would’ve really been onto something.
That being said, There’s some good stuff there, particularly the the first track “Bill Walton” (how can you not love Damian Lillard?) and “Hero”, but the lack of risks might appeal to Adam Silver but not a rap connoisseur.
With The Letter O, Damian Lillard proves that he has the skills to carry an album to the middle of the pack in a crowded rap game. But without a great supporting cast and innovative mind to run the show, the Blaze—I mean, Dame D.O.L.L.A.—needs some time to grow, and might have to make some serious changes before he can join the elites of the game.
I want to give The Letter O Five Stars for being the best, most legitimate rap album ever from an NBA player, but because it doesn’t even include his best song ever, I have to rate it as a Deep Three.
Bronson Arroyo – Covering The Bases
The once dreadlocked Bronson Arroyo deserves a special place on this list for having the best album name of the bunch.
The album itself, much like Bronson Arroyo as a pitcher, is surprisingly not bad. Featuring covers of songs by such late-90s, early-2000s rock stalwarts as Incubus, Foo Fighters, Alice in Chains, and Stone Temple Pilots (among others), the album may be poorly produced and very dated, but Arroyo’s voice somehow saves it.
Basically, Covering The Bases is like a good night at a karaoke bar: a poor sound system playing songs that you haven’t thought about in 15 years, but if they’re sung by an adept singer, it can be pretty okay.
Would I buy it? Of course not. Would I listen to it off YouTube during my annual ‘Four Days in October’ Yankees-schadenfreude celebration? Hell yes.
Based off the album’s strong vocals, its great name, and the fact that Bronson Arroyo is shockingly still pitching in the big leagues, much like Arroyo’s career ERA, I give Covering The Bases a 4.19.
Ron Artest – My World
In the opening song “Haterz” off the artist formerly known as Ron Artest’s debut album, he calls out former NBA commissioner David Stern and the Today Show’s Matt Lauer.
I think that should answer every question that you might have about this album.
As the incomparable Rick Ross so eloquently said on his 2013 remix of “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe”, “Rappers wanna be ballers, ballers wanna be rappers.” And while, I hesitate to call Barry Zito a “baller”, I’m glad the link between athlete and musician is still going strong.
If you’re itching for more baller-turned-rapper releases, I hear Le’Veon Bell is set to come out with an album in March.
And who knows, maybe I’ll be back then to analyze some more athlete’s musical missteps. In the meantime, I’ll be playing this Ron Artest song on repeat.
Edited by Jeremy Losak.
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